World’s best award proves native grain potential: Sacha La Forgia

Adelaide Hills Distillery AKA 78 Degrees has reaffirmed its intention of establishing a new category of Australian whisky made using native grains, after picking up a major trophy at the World Whiskies Awards in London last week.

Founded in 2014 by distiller Sacha La Forgia, Adelaide Hills is the third Australian distillery to win world’s best honours at the prestigious awards, following on from three-time winner Sullivans Cove (2014, 2018 and 2019) and Archie Rose (2020).

Adelaide Hills won World’s Best Grain with the latest edition of its Native Grain Whiskey, made using weeping grass.

“Hopefully this creates a new category,” La Forgia told Drinks Adventures.

Adelaide Hills Distillery's Native Grain Whiskey 2020
Adelaide Hills Distillery’s Native Grain Whiskey 2020 showcases the native cereal grain, weeping grass – picture courtesy Haley Renee

“Australia has done so well to prove itself on the world stage as whisky producers. This is the first award for a whisky that’s using native Australian grains.

“I think if there was any scepticism about Australia’s ability to make whisky its own, rather than just copying traditional whisky, that’s all been put to bed now.

“My real hope is that one day all the whisky in Australia is made from native grains, and we’re known for that globally.”

Weeping grass is top seed: La Forgia

La Forgia said Adelaide Hills had selected weeping grass as its frontrunner native grain following the controversy surrounding his earlier use of wattleseed, which he subsequently found did not qualify as a cereal grain.

“I think there’s still an argument to be made for wattleseed as a pseudo-grain. Quinoa isn’t a cereal grain and it’s perfectly acceptable [for whisky],” La Forgia said this week.

“But we just decided we’d found a better alternative in weeping grass, so we exited the fight.”

The judges at the World Whiskies Awards 2021 said of the Native Grain Whiskey: “Dark chocolate, roasted barley, orange peel, caramel, milky coffee, and molasses. There’s also some vanilla. Medium-dry and well-balanced. Blast of oak and Bourbon cask, burnt bananas and salted caramel.”

78 Degrees Australian Whiskey

Adelaide Hills also won Best Australian Blended Malt at the awards with its 78 Degrees Australian Whiskey, distilled from a recipe that is predominately unmalted barley, supplemented with 11 different specialty malts ranging from light roast to dark roast.

“The barley is farmed here in South Australia, about 40 mins away from the distillery. One farm produces it and we have full traceability back to the paddock,” he says.

“Malting is hugely energy and water intensive. We’ve found we can get the same quality as 100 per cent malt by using unmalted grain and specialty malts, and a bit of distiller’s skill.

Unmalted barley to define 78 Degrees

Unmalted barley is a key component of Ireland’s native whiskey style, single pot still.

The new Teeling Single Pot Still has a mash bill of 50 per cent unmalted barley, which is responsible for its distinctly spicy flavour profile.

But La Forgia says the unmalted barley presents differently in 78 Degrees Australian Whiskey.

“It’s a little bit spicy, but we get a lot of cereal character from it,” he says.

In combination with the specialty malts, La Forgia says 78 Degrees offers “malty, caramel toffee notes, chocolatey characters, as well as a really nice fruity lift”.

“Coco Pops and apricot is our house style – that is what I tell our distilling team.”

The first batch of 78 Degrees Australian Whiskey is currently on pre-sale and there will be a new release of Native Grain Whiskey in the coming weeks.

Adelaide Hills’ whisky and vodka will soon be rebranded as 78 Degrees, in keeping with its gin range.

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Author: James Atkinson

Journalist specialising in the food, drink, travel and hospitality arenas. Australian International Beer Awards 2017 Media Award Winner and Certified Cicerone®.

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